TV's Remake Craze: Who Gets the Money and Owns Rights?

Uncle Buck Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Uncle Buck Still - H 2014

This story first appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Hollywood's reboot and remake frenzy is spreading from film to TV.

To break through in a competitive scripted landscape, networks are turning to familiar feature-film material with new fervor. Fox is reviving Big and Monster-in-Law, CBS is tackling Rush Hour and In Good Company, CW is plotting The Illusionist, and Showtime and MGM TV are rebooting In the Heat of the Night, to name a few. But the rush to remake is requiring studio lawyers to sort out rights, and not everybody — including some of the original creators — is excited.

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In early October, Say Anything's Cameron Crowe appeared to quash NBC's plans to adapt his 1989 romantic comedy, leaving many to wonder whether he had that power. The answer is complicated. Although Crowe, like most screenplay writers, probably doesn't own remake rights, his mere objection — "[John Cusack, Ione Skye] and I have no involvement … except in trying to stop it," tweeted Crowe — was enough to give producer 20th Century Fox TV cold feet about moving forward. Whether the families of the late John Hughes and John Candy, who expressed concerns about ABC's planned Uncle Buck remake, will have the same kind of influence, remains unclear.

Studios typically reach out for a creator's blessing when adapting a film into a TV series, even if consent usually isn't required. And it's not uncommon for original producers to be involved, as was the case with FX's Emmy-winning Fargo, which Joel and Ethan Coen executive produced.

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When it comes to a TV show reboot, however, support from creators often is necessary thanks to a WGA concept called "separated rights," which allows TV creators to participate in spinoffs and remakes. Exceptions exist, but typically original writers will receive "Created By" or "Based on Characters Created By" credit as well as payments. Original producers also can be included creatively, as with Showtime's Twin Peaks revival and Disney Channel's Girl Meets World.

Despite the headaches, few see the remake trend halting. "Everyone is trying to cut through the clutter, and a well-known 'brand' or title is perceived to help that," says Bela Bajaria, executive vp at Universal TV, which is producing Uncle Buck as well as NBC's remakes of Problem Child and The Money Pit. (Original producers are involved with the latter.) She likens the strategy to her film counterparts' reliance on sequels and reboots.

20th TV also is moving forward with a drama series sequel to Minority Report, which again will be produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin. "When you have 300 scripted shows on many different networks, to have a presold title helps so much for marketing," says Amblin co-president Darryl Frank. Adds co-president Justin Falvey, "And in a risk-averse environment — for any of these networks — a title is a proven commodity."

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